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Bruce Conner

Bruce Conner, Bombhead, 2002, acrylic on ink-jet print, 31 3/4 × 25 1/8". © Estate of Bruce Conner/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

THE ARTIST AL WONG once told me a story: Bruce Conner was sitting at a friend’s kitchen table in San Francisco in the early 1960s when Walter Hopps, newly named director of the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum), happened to drop by. Hopps offered Conner a one-man show on the spot; instead of answering, Conner stared mutely ahead, trembling. Hopps was nonplussed and the show never happened. Is it true? As with so many stories about Conner, the veracity of this one is lost to time; if real, however, it would mark the first in a series of planned major museum exhibitions over the decades that the artist would have had a hand in sabotaging, sometimes via direct interference but more often as a consequence of the unruly nature of his own protean output.

During Conner’s long career, his corpus extended well beyond his better-known assemblages and films to encompass drawing

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